Of all the arts you could hope to master, the sword is proably one of the most elusive. I have only dabbled with it in the past, but it proves to be one of the weapons in our arsenal that needs the highest of skills, mental focus and heart.
Unarmed techniques are something we can all relate to. Our bodies seem to know how to move a little easier in this capacity. When it comes to the sword, especially in the early stages, it's like we've awoken from a coma and can't even remember how to spell our name....at least in my experience.
It is a romantic weapon, a noble and deadly one. We have all dreamed of weilding a blade in a life or death scenario of more nostalgic times. But when you see these razor-sharp weapons up close, you soon realise the fantasy you hold in your minds eye is just that...fantasy. One unlucky stroke with this weapon and your life would be altered forever. Even a poorly executed cut from your opponent could mean the difference between being right handed or left handed for the rest of your life.
Seeing Sensei's 200+ year old blade today as we did tameshigiri in a bamboo grove, made me realise just how leathal these blades really are. More importantly, just how sure you must be when cutting. Every cut you or your opponent makes, there's is likely to be a counter cut coming the other way. When we use our bokuto or fukuro shinai, it's easy to forget just how leathal these encounters can be. The cutting this morning was a huge learning curve. Even though you can make a clean cut, doesn't mean that's all there is to it. The shape of the cut is vital feedback for you. I watched today as my initial cuts went from a scooping cut to a falling cut and then eventually to straight cuts. Sensei made a one handed cut that made my previous efforts look clumsy.
Tameshigiri is something valuable everyone should do at least once. The bokuto or fukuro shinai are great training weapons, but a live blade is the mindset we have to keep when doing our kata or something as seemingly simple as kihon toho. Make every cut as if it were a live blade to a real opponent.
A long way to go, but as I've said before, that's half the fun.
Travis de Clifford